I listened to the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman on audiobook, read by a full cast of actors (who were wonderful). Pullman’s world was intricately built, and his characters were colorful and interesting – you just have to stick with it long enough in the beginning. The concept of parallel universes I found to be a fascinating and highly ambitious venture on Pullman’s part.
First off, I would never classify these novels as children’s books. Although the main characters, Lyra and later Will, are adolescent children, the scientific and philosophical concepts in these books are rather mature. But, that’s just my opinion.
The Golden Compass, also called Northern Lights, begins with Lyra, a ward of the university at Oxford in a universe parallel to ours, with the prime difference being that humans carry their souls on the outside. Their souls, called daemons, take the shape of animals, and can interact and converse with their people. Lyra’s guardian, her Uncle Azrael, embarks on a mission to research a mysterious phenomenon called Dust, which we later learn has something to do with original sin, the maturity or worldliness that sets in, once children lose their innocence and come of age. An organization calling themselves the Magisterium (Pullman’s metaphor for the Church) kidnap children in order to conduct scientific experiments on them related to Dust. As such, Lyra is on a rescue mission to find her kidnapped friend, with the help of a special device: a truth-telling compass only she can read.
In The Subtle Knife, we meet Will, who lives in our world. He discovers a knife that can cut openings to and from parallel universes, allowing him to move between worlds. He and Lyra meet in this way and begin their journey together, which continues and concludes in The Amber Spyglass. Hardcore sci-fi and fantasy fans may want to add this trilogy to their reading list due to its sophistication, thought-provoking concepts which really add to the wealth of the genre, and its popularity as being Pullman’s atheist response to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series.